Naomi turned 6 months old yesterday and it is blowing my mind. Mark and I created that tiny person and kept her alive and it has consumed us. People have been asking us “do you even remember what life was like before Naomi?” I was responding “um, yes, it was spontaneous and full of sleep” up until about a month ago, but now I am beginning to understand.
I don’t want to forget this beautiful, messy, wild year. I’m not one for scrapbooks, so thus begins the resurrection of this old, neglected blog for Part 1 of a series dedicated to our journey with Naomi so far.
Last summer, Mark, our housemates, and I had taken on the challenge of doing a 60-day sugar cleanse. We felt great and had a TON of energy – I had shaved off a few pounds, was training for a 5K with a running group, and Mark was in the middle of marathon training. We were excited for the challenge of hiking in Denver, where we vacationed with friends the first week of July. It wasn’t until I was sitting in a restaurant bathroom in Denver, crying, that the possibility of a pregnancy first entered my mind. I had the worst migraine and nausea of my life, and it was the first time I lost my appetite for tacos…. ever. If I was honest with myself, I hadn’t felt well for the last few hours, but I wanted to be an easy-going guest for our wonderful hosts and tried to push through the last couple miles of our hike together. It was just altitude sickness, right?
We found out we were pregnant on an otherwise dull Tuesday morning a couple weeks later in July. I had been late for a few days and Mark wanted to wait until the weekend to take the test. But it was a hot week and I had a 5K planned (as well as some drinks at the end). I wanted to know if I should take it easy on the run in 90+ heat and say no thanks to the drinks, or run my heart out and drink and be merry. So at 7am on Tuesday, July 21, I took the test, and it was overwhelmingly positive. Someone might as well have woken me up with an alarm : “PREGNANT PREGNANT PREGNANT”. Mark was still sleeping so I hopped over to the bed and, out of breath, told him we were pregnant. All I remember was Mark saying ‘oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh’. We did the math… I would be due at the end of March or mid-April. I cancelled my meeting that morning and went into work late so we could process the news more.
We were both really scared – we had naively dreamed this would happen in a year, or two, when we had paid off more loans and saved more, traveled more, etc. We had just celebrated our third anniversary and felt like we were hitting a good stride – both of us had jobs we were growing into, we had been setting financial goals, traveling lots, and we were loving our house and church community. We knew all of this would change with a baby. Our combined incomes at the time couldn’t pay all of our school loans and daycare, but we also couldn’t afford to have one of us quit our jobs and stay at home (neither of us really wanted to do that anyway). It was a classic middle class crisis which continues to haunt us today. We also had housemates that we were living with on a lease that wasn’t set to end until one month past our due date, AND I had just agreed to teach a course in the spring which would also run well past my due date. It was hilarious timing, one that made us laugh most days and cry many others.
The first person I told, two days after taking the test, was a relative stranger – my coach in a women’s running group with which I had been training for just about two months. I went to my 5K as planned, getting there early to talk to my coach about the news and ask her advice about the heat. It was really sweet – she cried a couple tears of joy and told me to take it easy – run/walk the race and drink lots of water. She had miscarried years ago, working herself too hard, and didn’t want me and my poppy seed baby to suffer the same experience. I ended up blurting out the news to my friend, Liz, that night too – I couldn’t think about anything else. I was a terrible running buddy.
I made an appointment with a midwife to confirm my pregnancy in early August, and things started to fall into place as the pregnancy became more real to us. We told our housemates at the end of July, with an open question mark about our housing situation. They graciously invited us to stay in the unit with them with our newborn until the lease ended, so we could avoid paying double rent. They’re amazing people. I told my boss in August that I couldn’t teach the course in the spring and that I would need to use all of my accrued sick time for a maternity leave. She was overwhelmingly supportive. We told our families, and they were THRILLED for us. We started talking with some friends and homeowners at our church about our upcoming housing need, and we signed a lease to move into their Avondale building at the end of April 2016. We found an affordable in-home daycare that our friends recommended.
We also made a lot of important medical decisions. We chose to work with Swedish Covenant Hospital’s midwifery practice. They were an incredible team of supportive, thoughtful women, caring for me as a person, not a patient, and educating us about all of our options through the whole journey. And we invited our rockstar doula, Beth Nielsen, to work with us and coach us through labor in March. I’ll share more about how great she is in the labor story.
At 28 weeks, we had our first (and only!) ultrasound. Mark and I decided to find out the gender because we wanted to imagine who our little person would or could be. Turns out Naomi didn’t want us to find out! The ultrasound tech gave us a very, very unconfident guess that it was a girl, but Naomi had conveniently placed her hands over her crotch so we couldn’t see anything. Nice. We didn’t want to risk telling everyone we knew that it was a girl, only to have a surprise at the end, so we kept it a secret – although we were bad at this.
My pregnancy was smooth without complications, although I always braced myself for the worst. I never experienced nausea beyond that day in Denver, which was a HUGE blessing. And even though I was nervous about the history of gestational diabetes in my family, I passed each test with flying colors. I started to trust my body and listen to it more during prenatal yoga, practicing the poses and breathing techniques I would later use in labor. I am still in awe of how blessed we were with a simple pregnancy.
One of the only books I actually finished during pregnancy was Creating with God by Sarah Jobe. Sarah and her Rutba House community hosted me for a few days in 2011 when I had a spring break from grad school. She had just finished writing this book and had asked her house community, and me, for help picking a self-portrait picture to go on the back of the book. 4 years later, I was devouring her every word with fascination and gratitude and relief that someone else understood how strange it was to be in a body burgeoning with responsibility and hope and fear and joy. In the book, Sarah invited me to consider the ways that pregnancy could train us in the very practices we need to live a life of faith. And oh, did it train me. At work and at home, pregnancy trained me to give up and let go of the things I wanted to control. My body became a sacred space, teaching and requiring me to be still and rest.
And rest I did. Through the whole pregnancy, I was so, so tired. I regularly slept 10+ hours/night on weekends. I fell asleep on the train often. I took naps before dinner on weeknights. During the second trimester, I started experiencing insane heartburn and severe hip and back pain. Prenatal yoga helped a lot but the pain and heartburn often interrupted my sleep at night, even before Naomi started kicking. I didn’t experience any long-lasting relief until almost immediately after Naomi arrived.
Speaking of Naomi’s arrival, stay tuned for my next post about naming and meeting her!
Post-holiday life, although pleasantly tickled with a snow days, cold days, and mandatory mental-health days, has been full. The undergraduate students for whom I’ve been preparing internships and interviews over the last 5 months finally arrived to Chiberia just a couple of weeks ago. They are eager to soak up Chicago in its frozen state and ready to jump into 13 weeks of full-time work, 10 arts events, 9 hours of class each week, and life with new roommates (strangers) in tiny studio apartments in a new city.
I adore this group, their enthusiasm, their go-get-em attitudes, and their focus under pressure. Orientation, albeit a long and challenging and time-sucking week, went smoothly. Students are placed and have positive dispositions toward even their second and third choices, if their first preference turned them down. I am told I broke a new record this year – getting all students placed before the long MLK Day weekend. I am so grateful for this small victory, even though I had no idea what to expect from these students; and to a certain extent, I am unsure ifwhen something will go wrong. Will someone show up in flip-flops and sweatpants, be sent home from their site, asked not to return? Will a site not have enough work? Will a supervisor – or worse, a student – go AWOL?
SoI am forcing myself to bask in the satisfaction of a good week’s work: enjoying Mark’s homemade cinnamon rolls, cooking elaborate meals, losing miserably to Mark in Scrabble, sipping amaretto and my favorite ginger pear tea. Mark graduated in December (huzzah! so proud of that guy. check out his new editorials section on his website), so post-holiday life has also been unemployed life for him so far. He has been working hard to perfect his portfolio, connect with professors and colleagues who promise assisting work, and get his work known in a variety of photojournalistic circles. In the meantime, it has been a blessing to have him home so much again after having barely seen him in the months of October, November, and December, while he worked so hard in the studio on Columbia’s magazine and for his classes. We have enjoyed the time to reconnect, although I know he’s itching to find good work.
Shifting gears here. During my commute to-fro work and on my time off, I’ve continued working on fulfilling one of my 26 goals for this year: reading 26 books. I already gave you brief reviews of Wonder and Stitches in December, so here’s an update on my good reads for this month. (I LOVE the Chicago Public Library’s hold list. LOVE it.)
Strangers at My Door was at the top of my hold list for a while, since I had stayed at Rutba House for a few days during a spontaneous spring break trip in grad school. Rutba House is a hospitality house in Durham, NC where the formerly homeless are welcomed into a community that eats, prays, and shares life together. In the book, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove discusses the motivation for the home, the challenges, blessings, and lessons learned. My favorite part of this narrative is that Jonathan doesn’t boast about lives changed or cleaned up after a few months or years in the House. Rather, he recalls his own story of how Rutba has changed him. The story of addictions he didn’t realize he had – to things, to power, to safety and security. The story of prejudices being broken down and of grace filling in the gaps. The story of broken people healing other broken people. The narrative’s radical (even though Jonathan wouldn’t call it that) model of community challenges me and my understanding of the Gospel to the core.
It was not an easy read, especially during train rides where on one side of me, I’d see a Wicker Park neighbor reeking of lavender, Starbucks, and expensive leather, and on the other side, I’d watch a neighbor without a home trying to sleep, awaking himself with his snores, and sending wafts of body odor and cold sweat my way. Me, in the middle, proud of my new bag and boots made from up-cycled materials, grateful for a new warm winter coat. I wasn’t sure what to do or think. More often than not, I was ashamed with this book in my hands as I already knew I would rush off the train and head to my cozy attic home for a good meal, hungry for rest and time away from a noisy and bustling city. I am still wrestling with it. I know I am supposed to be uncomfortable with that tension and with the unjust distribution of wealth – I knew that was a reality I signed up for when I decided to live in the city, but it was jarring to be reminded of how little I do to lean into that reality, working towards a new reality. I am reminded of this every time I teach students public transit, and they watch me to see how I’ll react to a person without a home asking for money on the street. I always smile, say hi, have a good day, but still feel unsure if that’s enough. Especially as eyes are watching me. It is always a good conversation to have with students, ask them what they think – they often offer a fresh perspective that is so good and convicting. If you’re reading this, ask me more questions about this when you see me. Keep me engaged in this thought process.
On a lighter note, Allegiant and Gone Girl were my two easier reads this month. Mystery thrillers that had me missing my train stop… more than once. Allegiant is the third in the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. I was drawn to this series because of its setting: a dystopian Chicago. Mark teased me about how similar it was to The Hunger Games series, constantly asking “how are Katniss and Peeta doing?” as I read. And if I’m honest, it is fairly similar, but what I favor in this series are the themes of trust vs. mistrust, justice vs. grace, power vs. service. Allegiant was a powerful ending to the series, which captured my attention with its action and gave me hope for our real-life Chicago!
Gone Girl, on the other hand, does not have many redeeming qualities. This story of a failing marriage is the kind of psychological thriller that leaves you questioning your own motives and wondering if your expectations of your friends and family are ‘normal’ or just plain psychotic. Despite feeling sick for the characters as I read it, I couldn’t put it down. Ironically, Gillian Flynn’s characters mock readers (and me) for this flaw, for our inability to turn our faces away from others’ brokenness. We are addicted to watching others fail. After having read this novel, I’m ready for something a little more hopeful!
My sincere apologies for keeping many of you on your toes as you check daily for new posts, I’m sure. 😉 It has been a full month with much joy and adventure and rest.
I officially turned 26 yesterday! Mark and I slept in and skipped church (a rare event) to enjoy a lovely homemade breakfast. When we discovered that our sad refrigerator did not have any maple syrup, we texted a house neighbor to borrow a couple tablespoons, and lo and behold: she had bought me a bottle of organic syrup as a gift just a few days earlier! It was one of the more delightfully hilarious parts of my day. Mark and I later ran errands, picking up pies and soup for our party later, and enjoyed some biscuits + coffee en route to a celebratory afternoon hosted by dear friends. Julianne even got me some canning equipment to jump-start item #16 on my list!
Since writing my very ambitious list last month, I’ve been able to cross a few items off the list… ahem, with very erasable dotted lines. Many of my goals are intended to be good processes worked upon and perhaps not ever fully completed. As much as I love finishing a good list and tossing it out, it will be a real test for me this next year not to feel the need to finish a project but to let these tasks journeys grow and change.
Early on in November, I attended a one-day retreat hosted by L’Arche Chicago in Hyde Park. The day focused on the life and writings of Henri Nouwen, a Dutch professor and pastor who spent his life writing authentically about his need for intimacy and the unconditional love of the Father. Our thoughtful group spent much of the time reading and contemplating a portion of Nouwen’s book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, which reflects on the Rembrandt painting and parable of the same name. It was a heavy but good day for me. I didn’t know a lot of people in the group which gave me the space and privacy I needed to pray and journal through private concerns of mine, while still learning much from my new retreat peers.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I took a mini road trip (another sort of extended retreat) with Mark and his sister, Jenn, to Bismarck, North Dakota. Jenn has worked for J.W. Pepper Sheet Music for two years now and has been promoted not once but twice! First from Wheaton to Westchester, PA as a sales rep and now to their location in Bismarck as Ms. Manager. We are so excited for her, and volunteered to help her move after Thanksgiving. Bismarck is a quaint little city with not a lot open on Sundays, but enough Chinese food and Oberon Winter Ale to keep our bellies happy.
Without Jenn’s belongings to unpack (the poor girl is STILL waiting for her things to arrive!), we soaked up the amenities of an empty hotel, dipping our cold toes in the hotel’s hot tub and watching Christmas movies. It was the perfect holiday respite before a busy December. On the way home, we made a pit-stop in Minneapolis to explore and celebrate Mark’s pending graduation. We ate a delicious Korean BBQ pizza at a local restaurant, and I gave him his graduation present: tickets to “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”. I’m so proud of this guy and can’t wait to celebrate his academic journey more!
I also read a couple of great books this month! Wonderby R.J. Palacio was a quick commute read, being adolescent non-fiction, but I enjoyed its rare bluntness about how cruel middle school can be for kids. This narrative of a boy with facial deformities balanced humor, sadness, injustice, and redemption with grace and intellect. It was beautiful. Stitches by Anne Lamott was equally beautiful. Lamott writes with such personal levity, depth, and honesty that you feel like you’re sitting next to her at a coffee shop as she unfurls her thoughts. Her writing was what my soul needed to hear this month.
I even started getting physical therapy. For a number of reasons, many related to really wonderful insurance opportunities and many personal, I visit the Rehab Institute of Chicago once a week now to work with a PT who is teaching me SO MUCH about my body. Together we learn the difference between good pain and bad pain, determine where my body carries the most stress, discover simple solutions to complex problems (stretching daily, getting plenty of rest, and drinking lots of water does more than you think!), and wait.work.wait.repeat for my body to restore itself and function as it was intended.
This physical therapy process has reminded me why I love having a birthday during Advent. My body is aging and my hairs are graying. My body was born into the same brokenness, pain, and discomfort as my weary soul. And even though Christ’s birth is sure, our new birth into a new Kingdom with new bodies is yet to come, and we get to live in the in-between. We “tidy the garden and plant the garden and distribute the goods of the garden [because]… it brings us all one step closer to what the Kingdom is meant to be” (Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily). Until then, we groan and mend, tidy and plant, soothe and rest. And wait.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to this present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
The first quarter century has been full to the brim of plans and dreams, struggles and successes. I studied hard for not one degree, but two. I’ve worked challenging and rewarding non-profit jobs that have led me to an amazing career and an office with my name on the door. I managed to create and keep up more than a couple meaningful and invaluable relationships in this big city. And I married the gentlest, bravest, goofiest guy I know. It feels like we’ve climbed valleys and mountains since our wedding day – battling financial setbacks one after another – finding joy in the mundane – asking, and praying, for help – wondering when we’ll feel “grown-up” – learning how to trust and love each other day in and day out.
And I feel more like myself than I have, well, in years.
I am finally seeing _steady_ in my future, but my natural urge is to ask God: what’s next? What big project, what big change, what big transition will I begin next?
So I created this blog to document this 26th year, a seemingly uneventful year by most standards : no new job, no more wedding to plan, no babies yet (knock on wood), no house to buy or rehab, no grad school graduation or enrollment. **
Yet I have this list. Of 26 things to do in my 26th year. It may be trite, too ambitious, too much information #sorryimnotsorry, or perhaps impossible. But by the end of it, I hope to emerge a changed person with a bigger faith and a stronger will. Perhaps a little bruised if I fail, perhaps a little taller because I tried.
Without further ado, here is the aforementioned list:
The plan is to blog about each of these at least once, in no particular order, and keep you up to date on their progress.
Your encouragement, wisdom, and camaraderie are most welcome! My hope is that this space becomes less about me and more about the God, the movements, and the people that inspire and guide me along the way.
**Disclaimer: this isn’t taking into account the wonderfully amazing things Mark will be accomplishing and beginning this year. I can’t tell you how excited I am to share in his journey of free-lancing and new PJ work, post his December 2013 graduation. What a talented guy! Check out his website, admire his work, and hire him, for goodness’ sake.